A society in pieces

If you bottle up 1,5-million people in a territory 40km long and 10km wide, and turn off the lights, as Israel has done in Gaza, the bottle will burst. This is what happened on Wednesday when tens of thousands of Gazans poured into Egypt to buy food, fuel and supplies after militants destroyed two-thirds of the wall separating the Gaza Strip from Egypt. It was the biggest jail break in history.

But it was also a reply to the argument that the only way to stop Qassam rockets falling on the Israeli town of Sderot and the western Negev is to turn the screw still further. One side of the vessel has now shattered. So much for the strategy of trying to contain Gazans. Jordan and Egypt, two Arab states with formal peace treaties with Israel, are furious — not least the Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak who is under pressure to sever ties with Israel. While the 30th anniversary of Anwar Sadat’s journey to Jerusalem was celebrated in Israel, it was all but ignored by the official media in Cairo.

Nor has Israel’s policy of escalation in response to provocation done anything to bolster its Palestinian partners, President Mahmoud Abbas and the Prime Minister, Salam Fayyad. Fayyad proposed at the donor nation’s conference in Paris a month ago that Palestinian forces not affiliated with rival Hamas and Fatah factions take over operations at the crossing points. The break-out has allowed Fayyad’s rival Khaled Meshal (below), the political leader of Hamas in Damascus and its leading hawk, to say that the militant group is prepared to work with its brothers in Egypt and in Ramallah (the Palestinian Authority) to lift the siege of Gaza. If there are any permanent changes to the crossing with Egypt, Hamas not Fatah will get the credit.

Cutting off electricity to Gaza will not stop the Qassams, 400 of which have fallen in and around Sderot since the start of the month. Israel claims the number of Qassams has declined, although 20 were fired on Monday alone. Nor will military campaigns work. One waged in 2006 killed 400 Palestinians in Gaza, half of them civilian. Entering into or encouraging some form of political dialogue with Hamas would stop the Qassams, but Israel has set its face against this while Hamas refuses to recognise Israel’s existence.

Once again, a limited conflict over border crossings in Gaza has exploded into a major one, at the time when Israeli and Palestinian leaders are supposed to be sitting down for the first time in seven years to discuss the big issues. Once again Arab pressure on Hamas to stop the Qassams is in danger of dissipating. Once again the strategic goal of a two-state solution is obscured by the fog of war. — Â

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